12 September, 2007

An Echo in the Forest - A Short Story

The previous days’ rain had watercolored the forest a pastel green, and all around were signs of renewal. The buds on the trees were unfolding themselves, waking from the long, cold winter.

The birches, with their slender white trunks, bent ever so slightly with the warm gentle breeze that blew up out of the south now. They were not a particularly strong tree, but the grace and beauty they displayed all but made up for their frailty. Maple trees, round and perfect, lined the main path of the forest.

The oaks were not exceptionally beautiful to look at except perhaps in autumn; and even then, they paled in comparison to the maples. Their strength and endurance were a part of the forest non-the-less.

And then there were the redwood trees, standing tall and magnificent for all the forest to see. The surrounding trees looked up to them, awestruck. The oldest redwood, known to the others as Maila, had seen 350 cycles of the seasons, and time had made her wise in many matters. Her wisdom stretched beyond the realm of the forest, for she saw many things that others could not. This wisdom showed in her bark, which was thick and tough, but inside, where the rings of time left their mark, she had a nurturing heart. She would talk to the young seedlings, teaching them the law of the forest; how they needed to respect each other for their differences, for it took many species to make up the diverse forest, and each one had its purpose for being there. And this is how the trees of the forest had grown strong amongst each other since time had begun. Out of this understanding grew harmony, and peace prevailed.

As the early summer months approached, Maila noticed a few of the elm trees appeared somewhat weak. From a distance, they didn’t look any different. They stood as they always did, scattered throughout the forest, sheltering the animals from the heat of the sun. But as she watched them more closely, she noticed that the early summer breezes seemed to leave them tired as it had never done before, and this concerned Maila.

This went on for a few days, and then it came to pass that one of the elm trees that stood near Maila began to show signs of weariness, and Maila decided to talk to him. As she gazed upon his delicate ovate-shaped leaves, she noticed tiny, bright red spots on the underside. His once healthy leaves were now wilting, and the disease was pumping through his veins. What worried Maila the most was that she did not recognize this disease. All she knew was that it was hurting some of her elms, leaving them weak and frail, and she feared for them. She tried talking to the other trees in the forest, but her words were carried off in the wind, unheard. The others had noticed the change in the elms, but would not acknowledge it or them. The birches, especially, shuttered with every breeze for fear that the disease would blow their way and spoil their beauty. The pestilence-stricken elms thought they would die from loneliness. They were sick and so alone at a time when they needed compassion and someone else’s strength. This caused Maila great concern for it went against all that she had taught them about the law of the forest.

As the weeks passed, the stifling heat of summer seemed to be choking the very life out of the forest. Though dark clouds gathered above, no rain had come, and all the trees grew weak, the elms even more so. Maila felt for them; she felt their isolation and pain. When the rain finally did come, it did not revive the elms as well as the rest of the forest. Maila felt helpless and tired herself, but offered her strength to those who needed it.

And then it happened, just as Maila knew it would. One late summer morning, as the wind blew quietly through the trees, Maila heard the muffled cries of a mother elm as she mourned. Maila looked over to see one of the younger elms had died; it’s lifeless limbs hanging down low to the earth, ready to be received.

The disease spread quickly now, to the oaks, the maples, and yes, even the birches, whose beauty and grace could not save them. None were spared. Each foreboding morning brought more sorrow to the dwindling forest, as trees, young and old, were felled. Maila, now weak herself, was heavy with burden. She was tired of the fight but knew in her heart that she had to remain strong for as long as she could. Her desperate anger choked her. She urged the few healthy trees remaining to drop their seeds in hope that the good earth would shelter them through the winter and they might renew life in spring. Maila urged all those who still remained standing to remember the most important of the five virtues, compassion. There was no time now for blame; the hour was upon them.

Dark opaque clouds gathered in the early autumn sky. Those who should have had a little more time now died swiftly and silently with the autumn chill. The sound of mothers mourning their young echoed in the heavy silence. Sisters mourned brothers, brothers mourned fathers, and Maila mourned for them all, especially the seedlings whose lives were swept away so quietly. She was angry at the senseless loss of life, and angrier still at herself, for all her wisdom could not save them.

As the autumn changes came upon them, the familiar golds and oranges were replaced with an unwelcome red hue. The destruction was unbearable for the few that remained. As Maila looked around, she could not believe that this once healthy forest could go through such a poignant metamorphosis in such a short time. Felled trees lay everywhere, and the stench of rotting wood hung heavy in the air. The wind grew very still, until she thought she would die from the silence.

Maila was the last to succumb; her once strong limbs now motionless in the wind. It is said that when Maila died, the heavens opened up and rained for three days. It is also said that the forest withstood a winter as no other; the elements were brutally harsh.

The following year, as the spring solstice approached once again, seedlings could be seen breaking through the earth, unfolding themselves for the renewal. Among them were oaks, birches, maples and elms. And off to the side, a redwood seedling standing taller and stronger than all the others, proudly led the renewed forest with her inherited wisdom.

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